Every modern viewer is familiar with such words as horror, thriller and suspense. However, not many people know that a founder of these cinematic techniques is Alfred Hitchcock. He set a new trend in movie direction and taught directors to use all available cinematic resources to play a complex psychological leapfrog with the audience. Alfred Hitchcock was a master of thrillers. Some people call him the founder of this genre. In his films, he combined horror with comic scenes. Hitchcock’s films are distinguished by elegant style, which can be seen both in the exterior of characters and selection of the storyline.
Alfred Hitchcock was born on August 13, 1899 in a modest family in London. His parents were strict Catholics. His father kept a grocery shop in London. In 1906, parents sent Alfred to the Jesuit college of St. Ignatius. He studied mathematics, English, French, and good manners. “He was by his own account a lonely child with a penchant for practical jokes, a hobby which remained with him for the rest of his life.”1 In the institution, there was a strict discipline, and for the slightest offense, students were punished with a rubber stick. Since his adolescence, Alfred was impressionable and vulnerable, but seemed complacent and mysterious. Hitchcock never revealed the secrets of his nature. Uncertainty and mystery of his character were explained by the persisting childish fear. Once, his father took him to the police office for a small offense and persuaded the police to put him in a ward. Alfred spent several hours there. However, this time was enough for a complex to develop – the fear of the police and cars. During his life, Alfred Hitchcock fought with this fear. Many of his films played at a subconscious fear of unjust accusation and persecution. After college, he enrolled in the Engineering and navigation school, where he studied mechanics, acoustics and navigation. He also studied art history in the University of London.
In the midst of the Great War, Alfred Hitchcock joined the front as a volunteer. However, because of his excessive fullness, he was designated to the reserve and intensively taught demolition work. After a brief army nightmare, Alfred joined the advertising department of a telegraph company. Throughout his youth, he raved about cinematography. He enthusiastically watched movies and dreamed to make a film by himself. In 1921, he applied for a job of a designer of credits in the London branch of one of Hollywood companies (a future studio “Paramount”). He soon headed the department. In 1923, Alfred Hitchcock had an opportunity to try his hand at directing. However, the film Number 13 (or Mrs. Peabody) remained unfinished due to the closure of the studio. Hitchcock began to work with a producer Michael Balcon – one of the pioneers of British cinema. In 1926, Alfred married Alma Reville, who worked in the “Paramount” as an editor. She was energetic and strong-willed. She became Alfred’s friend and adviser and gave birth to their daughter – Patricia.
Having tried such professions as a screenwriter, cinema artist and assistant director, Alfred finally made his debut film – a joint Anglo-German production of The Pleasure Garden. At the preliminary studio viewing, Balkon noticed that with great technical qualities, it looked like an American rather than a European film. Hitchcock did it consciously. After the first several films, he was recognized as one of the leading masters of British cinema, which only arose. After another Anglo-German film The Mountain Eagle, there was a film The Lodger (The Case of Jonathan Drew), in which Hitchcock first turned to the genre of thriller. For the development of the plot, he used all visual aids. In this film, a peculiarity of his subsequent works is displayed – a combination of fear with elements of parody. The film made a huge impression both on the audience and critics. Experts noted that there was born a director who knew how to keep the audience in suspense until the end of a film. This assessment was the answer to his question, what genre to choose in the future. Hitchcock became a master of thriller and suspense. He deliberately sought to entertain. However, he wanted to do it not passively, but controlling viewers from a screen with the help of emotions and feelings, subtly expecting each scene to achieve maximum effect. Since 1934, almost every year, he directed a new film: The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps, Secret Agent, Young and Innocent. The film The 39 Steps is still a standard of comedy thriller sacrificing a gripping story to plausibility, logic and coherence of narration. Highly regarded by critics on both sides of the ocean, the film also received a huge commercial success.
Alfred Hitchcock was the author of 23 movies, when in 1939, he was invited to Hollywood. He signed a contract with a famous producer David Selznick. The contract obliged Hitchcock to direct five films during seven years. Initially, he wanted to make a film about the Titanic, the ship that crashed in 1912 from collision with an iceberg. For unknown reasons, the project was not accomplished. Later, Hitchcock claimed that Selznick changed his mind, and they decided to direct Rebecca. However, Hitchcock still wanted to make a tragedy of the Titanic a plot of his first American film. There is a version that shipping companies prevented direction of the film. They feared that the movie about terrible destruction of the ship and related human aggression would reduce the number of people wishing to travel by sea. Therefore, they used all means to prevent him from releasing the film. Hitchcock hoped to direct Rebecca in parallel with The Titanic. However, his plans were never implemented.
Already in the following year, he directed a film-melodrama with a detective subtext Rebecca. It was a film adaptation of the famous novel by Daphne du Maurier about the fate of a young girl who married a wealthy owner of a luxury castle, whose wife died under mysterious circumstances. The film held viewers in suspense until the last minute offering the audience to invent new versions. The film was awarded the Oscar. In the future, Hitchcock was looking for scenarios with unexpected plot twists. Hitchcock carefully selected plots for his films. He said: “To make a great movie, you need three things - the script, the script and the script.” On the screen, he spoke in details about his heroes and unfolding events and made a viewer complicit in actions, causing feelings of antipathy and sympathy. A subsequent film Psycho was recognized as a masterpiece in the genre of horror. The film was directed on a small budget with the use of television equipment since the major studios refused such a rigid material. “Working within the constraints of a low budget, Hitchcock approached Psycho as an experiment in the making of a feature film along the lines of an expanded television episode, employing some of his regular television crew and working with multiply camera setups.” In The Birds, viewers were frightened of the behavior of crows. “The Birds equals any film anywhere of its decade in its artistic confrontation with the risks of nature and the perils of modernity.” The film was a thriller and suspense at the same time. It was created on the verge of a terrible reality and fiction. Both films have brought the worldwide fame and enormous fees to Hitchcock.
In the pavilion, Alfred Hitchcock always appeared in a dark suit, polished shoes, white shirt, and a tie. Hitchcock did not like noisy gatherings. He had no close friends. Alfred Hitchcock devoted his life to cinema. “Hitchcock had three personas: public, private and personal.” Hitchcock had a top list of phobias: babies, police, high-rise buildings and a fact that his next film would be worse than the previous one. He also was afraid of oval objects and especially eggs. It only helped him direct breathtaking scenes. Movies became his personal therapy.
In almost every film, he played a tiny role, which lasted only a few seconds. He brought this practice to perfection. Hitchcock played his first role in Tenant. His hero was sitting at his desk at the newspaper office. At that time, it was caused by desperate shortage of actors. Later, the director acted in every movie. Hitchcock wrote about his micro roles: “Moving on the other side of the camera, I let my team shoot me, and know what it means to act in my team”. However, one day he complained to a French director Francois Truffaut that shootings of these scenes tired him. However, it was one of the greatest pleasures for Hitchcock’s fans to catch the moment with their idol while viewing his film. Hitchcock’s unusual appearance made him a perfect actor of episodes.
Alfred Hitchcock was one of the most respected and popular filmmakers. Many directors in different countries began to imitate him. Hitchcock’s name became almost synonymous with universal horror. A king of universal fear died in his house in Los Angeles from kidney failure. His last words were addressed to his daughter: “I feel that the lights go out. Finally I can really relax and sleep off.”
Thriller is a movie genre that causes feelings of fear, anxiety and excitement. History, due to which it is possible to watch thrillers in excess, begins with film works of the great director Alfred Hitchcock. All his films are characterized by a large number of scenes in which psychological stress is injected. Alfred Hitchcock is considered an ancestor of this genre. He was well aware that thrillers became extremely popular. “Hitchcock worked within the entertainment film industry, making pictures that were aimed at a mass audience.” Therefore, with every film, he honed his skills. He skillfully frightened viewers, provoking sympathy and empathy at the same time. Hitchcock skillfully juggled with angles, color and music, mixed large and overall plan, mounting his perfect suspense from the mosaic of scenes.
Hitchcock liked to bring the scene to the point of absurdity in order to achieve proper entertainment. However, he always retained right proportion of plausibility. In action-packed spy games, complex mental disorders or natural disasters, Hitchcock created and maintained tension with the help of his favorite method -MacGuffin. Unlike suspense, a term MacGuffin is not known to the general public. It is another cinematic move popularized by Hitchcock. It became the basis of spy saga, parables and melodramatic detective thrillers. Hitchcock called it a “donut hole”. In fact, it is nothing but a pinhead, around which the storyline is twisted.
In his life, Alfred Hitchcock directed 55 movies, many of which have become classics of world cinema - Psycho, Tenant, Rear Window, The Birds, Marnie, Vertigo and many others. In his films, there is always a fascinating story and mysterious and interesting characters. They have a tense atmosphere. Hitchcock invented new ways to keep the audience in suspense: sound intensity and rapid or fractional montage. “By concentrating upon the technical aspects of his work, Hitchcock presented himself as an artisan and master craftsman.” Alfred was also a pedant, as biographies of all his characters were worked with great care. Therefore, it is almost impossible to predict development of events. The viewer is constantly in a state of uncertainty and suspense.
Modern directors and writers like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, David Lynch and others still learn Hitchcock’s methods. Some scenes of his suspense films became so iconic that they are repeated in new films. For example, in the film of Emir Kusturica Arizona Dream, one of the heroes is pursued by a “corn-man” from Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. Almost all films with elements of thriller today use Hitchcock’s techniques.
According to Tom Ryall, English cinema has a complicated history of development. Almost half of a century, Britain cinema was dormant, and its development was slow when compared with the pace of Hollywood. However, English cinema gave the world a lot of masterpieces of cinematography and film industry stars. When Hitchcock began his career in the film industry, British cinema was perceived as something second-rate. Since the beginning of the XX century, the United States was considered a center of the global film industry. Among European countries, Germany directed a quality movie even during the Great War.
Hitchcock noticed that in the English movie, the screen served as a substitute for a theatrical scene. Therefore, it was trivial. The great traditions established by Shakespeare pressed on cinematography. The theater was considered high art, and movies were perceived just as entertainment. Best actors and directors tried to stay away from a newfangled genre. Due to Hitchcock, English film rose on its feet. A director visited German film studios and got acquainted with their methods of work. Then, he used this experience to release a movie from the influence of the English theater. For example, Hitchcock took an idea of using light and shadow to create a certain mood of the film from German Impressionists.
According to Hitchcock, the problem of British cinema was not in a lack of techniques, but in the triviality of plots. In his view, a good movie should capture the viewer with a spectacular visual side and unusual story, even at the expense of realism. Quite often, in suspense films, a comedy element flows into a theme of horror shading it. The ability to combine funny and scary elements is one of the hallmarks of Hitchcock’s films, which became a model for later movie directors.
Appearance of Sound Films
At that time, there was a revolution in British and world cinema. Sound films appeared with their new features of screen narration. Until 1923, all English films were silent. However, in 1929, there was the first British sound film Blackmail directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It is a unique movie. “Filmed in 1929, this film occupied a special place in the work of the director, becoming the last silent and the first sound movie simultaneously.” In the process of filming, the film’s producer John Maxwell bought a recording technique in America - the first in the UK - and Hitchcock decided to try it directing an audio version of the tape.
Blackmail, the last silent and the first sound film by Alfred Hitchcock, as described by the producers, opened the era of sound films in the UK. Originally, the tape was filmed without any sound. However, by the end of work, there was recording equipment, and Hitchcock decided to direct a separate audio version of the film. However, there was an unexpected complication. Anny Ondra, the main actress, spoke English with a strong accent. Duplication had not been invented, so shooting and recording of audio series were produced simultaneously. Hitchcock came up with an original output. Ondra moved her lips, and an actress Joan Barry spoke her words from behind the scene. Then there was some discrepancy as Ondra’s character, a daughter of a small London merchant, Cockney, spoke perfect English. However, it did not affect the success of the film. Blackmail has become a model of Hitchcock’s stylistics and his second big success after Tenant.
The film became a commercial triumph, which made Hitchcock recognized by critics as one of the greatest directors of all time. In all its glory, Blackmail shows many stylistic elements typical to Hitchcock’s fashion, in particular, enthusiasm of male sexual aggression and women’s vulnerability. The film is included in the UNESCO World Heritage Center along with another 8 films of the director.
In the history of world cinematography, Alfred Hitchcock – the famous English and American film director – remained an unsurpassed master of horror films. Hitchcock firmly entrenched in the classics of world cinema, removing more than fifty feature films as well as television and documentary films. He created action-packed films with an atmosphere of anxiety, suspense and gloomy humor. They were called thrillers. Hitchcock skillfully worked on the psyche of the audience. Altogether, he produced 55 feature films, many of which have become classics of world cinema. He was repeatedly awarded.